We have examined a series of 135 gliomas for alterations of the p53, CDKN2A (p16) and PTEN tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) in order to evaluate the incidence of their inactivation as a function of tumor malignancy and cellular differentiation, and to examine potential associations with patient outcome. The composition of this series, classified using WHO criteria, is as follows: 27 grade 2 tumors (11 astrocytomas, 12 oligoastrocytomas, 4 oligodendrogliomas), 42 grade 3 tumors (22 astrocytomas, 16 oligoastrocytomas, 4 oligodendrogliomas), and 66 grade 4 tumors (63 astrocytomas and 3 oligoastrocytomas). Similar frequencies of p53 mutation were observed among grade 2 (37.0%), and grade 3 tumors (38.1%), as well as between astrocytomas and mixed tumors. CDKN2A and PTEN mutations were clearly associated with increasing tumor malignancy (occurring in 0% of grade 2 tumors, 14.3% and 4.8% respectively of grade 3 tumors, and 27.3% and 30.3% respectively of grade 4 tumors) and were observed at substantially higher rates among astrocytomas. For the tumor suppressor genes examined, there was no relationship between the occurrence of any two TSG inactivation events. With regard to outcome, the p53 genetic status showed no significant relationship with patient survival. The CDKN2 and PTEN alterations were negative prognostic indicators of survival when evaluated in all 135 gliomas, but failed to predict outcome when evaluated in either of the high grade (3 or 4) tumor groups.